The Light And the Labyrinth

By Sally Quinn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 22, 1999; 8:07 AM

Marylin Arrigan had never walked a labyrinth before. She had heard of them, but all she knew was that they were circular mazes of some sort and that walking a labyrinth was a kind of meditation. Even so, when her friend Judy O'Brien called recently to ask if she'd join a group of volunteers who were building one in St. Mary's City, she agreed to help out.

The group had mapped out, with the aid of a local engineer, a labyrinth right on the banks of the St. Mary's River in Southern Maryland, the ancient sacred ground of Indians. It was modeled after the one on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France--a circle 40 feet in diameter with a path that leads to the center, or rosette, and back out again.

Arrigan, 50, of St. Mary's County, brought with her, as requested, some stones that were special to her. "As soon as I started I felt an intensity," she says. "I didn't take breaks. I felt everything had to be perfect."

When they stopped for lunch she walked the labyrinth for the first time. "It was like going into a bubble," she says. "My emotions were very complicated, especially near the rocks I brought."

Back at work after lunch, things really started to get intense.

"Suddenly," she says, "I was in a very bright light. I had a vision of an Indian face with long straight hair, blowing in the wind. He had uplifted arms. He kept telling me to look up. I kept looking up. I was engulfed in light.

"He asked if I was committed to walking the labyrinth. I said 'yes.' He said, 'If you are, you must leave a footprint.' When I got to the center I left two deep footprints. As I was walking out he said, 'Now you are walking out, you must go out in the world and leave a footprint.' "

"We all noticed that Marylin had gotten up to walk," says Pat McKenney, the organizer of the project. "We continued to work. She came up to me after walking with tears in her eyes. She was very emotional, but contained. She said she had just had the most powerful and profound experience of her life. And she didn't know what to do with it."

Arrigan's friend Judy O'Brien, an educator, said that Arrigan had been a little skeptical about the labyrinth but finally agreed to come. "It was clear to me she was very moved by the entire experience. But she was in a state of peace." Later, driving home, Arrigan told O'Brien the whole story about her vision. "This was not a normal experience for her," says O'Brien. "She's Catholic. She doesn't go around talking to Indians."

Arrigan can't explain her vision. "I was in tears on and off. It was like a roller coaster. But toward the end I was very calm, it was like a peace. Like I had a mission."

A volunteer, Carol Davis, took pictures with a digital camera as they were finishing up. Flipping through the images, she stopped, stunned, at a shot of the group. For there, in the center of the picture, was what looked like a brilliant shaft of multicolored light, coming from above and directed exactly at Arrigan.

The labyrinth at St. Mary's City had been several years in the planning. It started after a trip I took to the California health spa the Golden Door. It is a beautiful, peaceful place that stresses meditation as well as physical fitness. This particular year, the center had built a labyrinth, modeled after one that had recently been built at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. That one had been modeled after the one in Chartres. I was encouraged to walk it by the staff, but it seemed like a ridiculous exercise to me and I begged off at first.

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